India will be an important art centre in five years – India Art Fair director

January 29, 2014

If Christie’s debut auction in Mumbai last month is any indication, buyers are flocking towards Indian art as investors shake off the remnants of an economic downturn.

An untitled work by abstract painter Vasudeo S. Gaitonde sold on Dec. 19, fetching $3.7 million (237 million rupees) – a record for modern Indian art. Another of his works will be the showpiece in Sotheby’s South Asian art sale in New York in March. It’s not just Gaitonde. The Christie’s auction raked in $15.4 million (966 million rupees), doubling pre-sale estimates and defying the economic downturn. A November report by art market analysts Art Tactic said confidence in Indian modern art was on the rise.

That’s good news for Neha Kirpal, founder and director of the India Art Fair which opens in New Delhi this week. Kirpal told India Insight the Christie’s auction was a “booster shot” for the leading art exhibition in South Asia.

About 3,500 works by about 1,100 artists will be on display at the sixth edition of the art summit. The four-day fair runs till Feb. 2. Here are edited excerpts from an interview:

What kind of interest have you seen in the art fair in the past five years?
About 40 percent of the buyers in the fair are first-time buyers, and it’s throwing up a really interesting segment in the arts that previously wasn’t part of the art circuit. And in a sense the art fair is playing the role of market builders bringing in a new  audiences. So we have seen a great change in the buyer base especially over the last few years in terms of both Indian and international buyers.

What are the highlights this year?
We have a 24-hour projects programme for large-scale installations all across the fair venue… We have a jewellery exhibitor who is showcasing for the first time jewellery inspired by Mughal miniature art. We’ve got four museums showcasing at the art fair. There are really interesting installations that galleries are doing within their booths. Maskara Gallery (from Mumbai) for example is converting its whole booth into an installation, which is like a war-time bunker.

What do you think of the Indian art scene at present?
I think 2013 has been a difficult year, but we are seeing now layers of optimism come through. The recent auction with Christie’s was a big development. It has really helped people feel more optimistic and hopeful about 2014.

The economic slowdown affected the art world. Has that been changing?
I think it is unrealistic to expect anything to skyrocket, it’s really about cautious slow growth and that is ideal. That is how it should be to build a sustainable market for the long term. In the next five years, I see India can develop into a really strong, important art centre.

How does one make art more inclusive and more accessible to the public?
The whole point of the art fair (is to) take art out of the intimidating spaces of an art gallery and bring it into a public venue like an art fair where it’s open to the public. Unlike some of the top international fairs, our effort is to keep the entry tickets really affordable. We have student tickets. We don’t want to dictate the experience; we want everyone to come and experience it in their own way.

What are the challenges that you face at the Art Fair?
The key challenge in India is definitely the government policy to do with import duties and the fact that it is difficult for international galleries to come and exhibit here. There are no public infrastructural venues which enable a large-scale fair like this. We build the entire exhibition space, all of 20,000 square feet metres and break it down a week after.

Are there any new, big collectors emerging? Is there an Indian Saatchi?
Now that we go looking for them, we find so many curiously interesting collectors around the country. We have had big real estate firms who are all looking at art in a big way as part of their commercial and retail complex plans. There are also very small examples of collectors who are in small towns. One of the biggest collectors of video art is in a small town in Gujarat.

Any advice for first-time buyers?
The first thing is to always and only to buy what you like, what you are happy to have and live with on your walls at least for a certain amount of time. Do not make rough decisions. To be fully satisfied with the purchase itself and do their research and homework before actually making that jump.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; Follow Arnika Thakur @arnikathakur, Tony Tharakan @TonyTharakan and Robert Macmillan @bobbymacReports |This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)

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